The Rose of Fire and Brimstone
There comes a time in every child’s life where one must face that dreaded rite of passage: the ambiguous ‘science project.’
If Sister Madly had known all the loopholes, such as time machine = clock, or better yet, cooking = chemistry, she would have had her mother bake a couple dozen cookies and be done with it. With little hesitation, both parents deemed proving the existence of unicorns impractical to the scientific community, yet supported her decision to dismember her sibling and replace the limbs with butterfly wings so long as Sister Madly was willing to clean up afterwards (which she wasn’t.) In the end, Sister Madly chose an experiment out of some How to Scientifically Take Over the World book that she once found wrapped up under a Christmas tree.
And that experiment was to bleach a rose. With sulfur.*
* The book mysteriously disappeared after the completion of this science project.
There was some concern about this project from the onset, in particular the obtaining of the roses. After all, Sister Madly knew just how expensive these flowers could be (He got you a dozen roses?! It MUST be love!) which was why they were so treasured. Growing the roses herself was simply out of the question- to this day, plants refuse to photosynthesize in her presence. She decided that her parents’ budget would allow for 3 roses: a practice run, the actual project, and one unbleached rose to compare. She wouldn’t need more than that because science projects always turn out perfectly the first time around- especially when it involves an 8 year-old playing with fire.
Her parents, however, had a slightly different- and, in Sister Madly’s opinion, utterly preposterous- concern: where, dear child, are you going to get the sulfur?
Contrary to popular belief, one does not just pop off to Sulfur Express to get this element, nor does the average citizen keep a stockpile in the garage next to the Harley. And while certain religious texts believe sulfur* to be an important ingredient in the Lake of Fire, neither her parents nor the school board approved of the lengthy, transcendental holiday it would take to obtain the sulfur, much less the destination. Her school wasn’t very Hell-friendly.
*Brimstone = Sulfur
Then again, she once heard that onions contain sulfur, thus saw no reason why setting fire to an onion would not produce the desired effect. Her parents did not agree.
It was her science teacher, through a connection at the local college, who later obtained the sulfur. As Sister Madly now had all the components, she was quite ready to bleach the rose and successfully take over the world.
However: Rose + Chemical + Fire = Father doing the project while Sister Madly watches.
With her father at the reigns, the project went off without a hitch (although it took a total of 5 roses.) But it wasn’t enough for Sister Madly to walk into school the next day and announce that the experiment had been a success; no, not only was she required to turn in the completed project, she was to present it to the class.
What do you mean that Sister Madly has to understand and explain the science behind this project? Isn’t the fact that a rose transformed from red to white in the seclusion of her own backyard with absolutely no witnesses cool enough on its own? The How to Scientifically Take Over the World book didn’t explain how this experiment worked, only that it does work and quite frankly, that’s good enough for her.
Mind you, when all this occurred, the average family was still several years away from regular internet access. Sister Madly didn’t know any pro-science adults who could explain to her the sulfur phenomenon (she wasn’t very social) and didn’t know where to begin researching it in the library (not that she had any desire to do so.) Faced with these impossible options, Sister Madly decided that it was necessary to bluff her way through, figuring that if she threw enough scientific-sounding words around, she would pass.
And bluff she did, attributing the bleaching phenomenon to static electricity: when exposed to fire in an enclosed area, the sulfur produces an electrical charge which causes its particles to cling to the rose, thus turning it white.
It is not known whether the teacher bought this snake oil sales pitch, or whether he simply admired her audacity, but that day Sister Madly adjourned for recess with not only with a passing grade, but the confidence that school was a waste of time as her science teacher was no more wiser than she.
20+ years later, Sister Madly finally knows the science behind this experiment.* It hasn’t enhanced her life in the slightest.
* When sulfur burns it produces sulfur dioxide- which acts as a bleaching agent- reducing the pigments, thus turning the rose white. Re-oxidizing the reduced pigments restores the color, which can be as simple by exposing the reduced dyes to the oxygen in the atmosphere.